by Stephen Ross
First Published: New Zealand Herald, Dec 28, 2004 READ
I don’t smoke, but I sat in a bar once with someone from Ash, and had I known they were from Ash I’d have had a “serendipitous moment”. I’d have lit up. And if no cigarettes had been handy, I’d have smoked a chair leg.
Like most New Zealanders, I don’t like being told what to do by a bunch of people who have designated themselves “mother”.
Well, the mothers at the Health Ministry have succeeded in outlawing smoking in bars – and pretty much anywhere else human beings gather to socialise.
I don’t smoke and I rarely frequent bars, so it will have little effect on me, but it still annoys me. What if I wanted to? And anyway, isn’t that what you’re supposed to do in a bar?
What really annoys me is the Health Ministry’s latest proposal – to go after the movies. Flush with success from its victory in the bars, it now wants to place an age restriction on films that feature smoking. The head of Ash suggested 18 would be a good age.
Excuse me? But just how do you passive-smoke a reel of celluloid?
It’s bad enough that this month’s legislation makes it illegal for actors in live theatre to light up, even if the script depends upon it – live theatre is a work environment.
Actors on the stage can perform in the nude, they can drink and swear, simulate sex, rape and vomiting. They can unleash practically any manner of bodily carnage a script calls for, but if they light up a cigarette they’re going straight to hell.
I imagine the Health Ministry’s concern about movies is not the issue of passive smoking, but rather a desire to prevent the little ones from seeing people engage in the act of having a puff – so they don’t get the idea to try it themselves when they grow up. Brilliant: it’s not like people actually smoke in real life, now is it?
And there’s the rub. In real life people smoke, and that’s what films do – they reflect real life. Age-restricting films that feature smoking would be about as logical as banning films that feature actors with red hair.
And anyway, have the mothers from the ministry thought this through? All three of the Lord of the Rings films would suddenly be restricted to adults-only, as would nearly all the works of Steven Spielberg, not to mention a fair chunk of the Disney back catalogue.
Not even The Sound of Music would be safe. That archetype of wholesome entertainment would be relegated to the restricted section of your local video library. Julie Andrews would be sharing shelf space with the likes of The Happy Hooker and Debbie Does Dargaville.
It would come down to this: if you’re a kid, you can forget about watching virtually any film made between 1901 and 1990 that has adult human beings in it, because it’ll probably have at least one instance of someone lighting up.
And for those of us old enough to still get into the movies, will our ticket stubs then come with health department warnings?
I have a fondness for the movies of the 1940s and 50s, when cigarettes were de rigeur. I grew up on a regular diet of James Dean, Barbara Stanwyck and Humphrey Bogart, whose first words were most likely, “Got a light?” Does this mean I’m now more likely to succumb to cancer? Can I sue Phillip Morris?
And what about television? Will this be restricted, too? Smoking might not feature so prominently in American-made television anymore, but it’s still there by the ashtray load in British productions. And, kids, say goodbye to The Simpsons.
It’s a shame the anti-smoking brigade weren’t around a few years back. In days gone by people used to smoke in the audience as well as up on the screen.
That would have put a whole lot of something in their pipes to smoke.
The Government, fortunately, has pretty much nixed the Health Ministry’s new idea – for now. But you can guarantee it still smoulders in the darkest veins of the ministry mothers. And remember, people laughed at their proposal to ban smoking in bars.
It’s really bad enough you can’t smoke in a pub anymore. They’ll ban the alcohol next – that’ll be the next serendipitous moment, just you wait and see, and then it’ll be a bunch of folk sitting around playing Scrabble, with an official from the Government standing over them vetting the words.